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Why achieving B-Corp status is critical to the Covid-19 business recovery

Jamie Oliver's businesses have now achieved B-Corp sustainability accreditation / Jamie Oliver Group

Following the news that the Jamie Oliver Group has achieved B-Corp status, Xavier Rees, chief exec at Havas London (the first major ad agency to achieve the status), explores how the B-Corp movement will become a crucial part of the Covid-19 recovery as businesses build a sustainable future.

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, a rather downcast Jamie Oliver was figuring out how to rebuild his shattered business empire. Fast forward to last week and the celebrity chef’s trademark enthusiasm was back as he proudly announced the Jamie Oliver Group’s achievement of B-Corp status and commitment to – as he put it – “amplifying our focus on social purpose”.

The B-Corp movement is becoming a crucial part of the Covid-19 recovery in all sectors as part of a shared desire to create a sustainable future. Tech company WeTransfer achieved B-Corp status last month; about 30% of food giant Danone’s operations are B-Corp-certified (and it aims to convert the rest by 2025, five years earlier than its previous commitment); and we’re also now seeing a rising number of fashion companies aiming to follow the lead of Allbirds, Patagonia and Eileen Fisher to become B-Corp certified.

Having B-Corp certification means youve met the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. Or, to put it more simply, its about using business as a force for good.

Havas London achieved its B-Corp status back in 2018, becoming the first major ad agency to do so. Our own B-Corp decision was partly inspired by our client Ella’s Kitchen and its chief exec, Mark Cuddigan, who is a passionate advocate of the scheme. He describes B-Corp as “like Fair Trade but for the whole business”, as it applies right across operations, including gender pay gap, diversity, paternity policies, supply chain and impact on society. It’s an extremely rigorous process and it took us almost two years to reach the standards required, but it was definitely worth it.

Some business leaders may feel they’ve got enough on their plate at the moment without undergoing an intense interrogation of their practices. But B-Corp isn’t just a nice to have – it makes business sense, especially in challenging times. B-Corp-certified brands in the UK grew 28 times faster than the national economic growth rate of 0.5% in 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Prior to the pandemic, momentum around shareholder capitalism had been growing for a couple of years, propelled in part by Larry Fink, chief exec of the world’s largest investment firm, BlackRock, issuing annual letters recommending CEOs pay more attention to environmental performance. But there was a lot of talk and not enough action.

Now, Covid-19 has pushed companies to step up to the plate, with fashion brands making PPE, brewers producing hand sanitiser and luxury hotels housing key workers; and this has led to an acceleration of B-Corp adoption. Since March 2020, the average daily users of B-Corp’s Impact Assessment tool has doubled in the UK and annual certifications have climbed 40%.

Be warned, the process to certification can be tough. For those considering becoming a B-Corp company, it requires a serious commitment from the top of the organisation – and then a clear process to be in place. But for the most part, this isnt about spending more money; its about making different decisions that impact your day-to-day operations. For instance, at Havas, we used to throw all our food away at the end of each day (and in a building of 1,800 people thats a lot of food). Now, none of its wasted. If its still packaged it goes to food banks; if its inedible it ultimately ends up fertilising local farms or community garden projects near us in Kings Cross.

B-Corp also helps boost recruitment and talent retention. People, and especially millennials, want transparency. They want to know their employer is behaving responsibly. Here, 84% of our people said they were proud to work for a B-Corp, and the majority felt they were working for a company that had a purpose beyond just the bottom line. Brands dont pay significant fees to be B-Corp certified, but their membership is only maintained if they invest in continuous improvements.

Being a B-Corp impacts on how we treat our people. Yes, you have to make difficult decisions sometimes, but as a B-Corp we instinctively try to take a more conscientious and compassionate approach. For example, our recently open-sourced Press Pause initiative, which encourages people to speak out about inappropriate or uncomfortable situations at work, probably wouldnt have come into existence had we not been a B-Corp.

While I won’t pretend that B-Corp status alone will win you pitches, it does make you more interesting to certain clients and, frankly, weve won some business that we wouldnt have otherwise.

With B-Corp, you no longer have to choose between making a profit and supporting the planet – you can do both.

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